The Costa Rican legislature approved a new Immigration Law, Law No. 8487 on November 25, 2005. This law, No. 8487 becomes effective on August 12, 2006.

This article will focus on the Pensionado and Rentista residency category as adopted to the new law.

The current Pensionado and Rentista Program was established in 1971 by Law No. 4812. It was passed in order to attract foreign retirees to Costa Rica and for many years the law provided numerous tax incentives such as the right to import household goods duty free and the right to import a vehicle duty free as well.

The tax breaks originally granted by the law are long gone and this immigration category is solely used to confer legal status to the applicant.

The Pensionado and Rentista Program was originally managed and administered by the Costa Rican Department of Tourism until administration of the program was turned over directly to the Department of Immigration.

In the past two years as immigration to Costa Rica from abroad has become popular the reactions of local officials have resulted in numerous procedural changes for processing residency petitions before the Department of Immigration.

On many occasions those internal procedural changes in immigration have resulted in the spread of rumors about the cancellation of the pensionado and rentista program, rumors about increases in the income requirements to qualify for the status. Most of that was just that; unsubstantiated rumors.

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Since the existing Pensionado and Rentista Program has it’s separate law (No. 4812) the law could not be changed or eliminated without modifying or repealing the existing law which only the Costa Rican Legislature can do.

Under the 1971 law, the applicant could apply for the Pensionado portion of the program if they had a permanent fixed income from a pension or similar retirement income of at least US$600 per month. The typical applicant in this category has a government, private sector pension or social security retirement benefits.

To apply under the Rentista portion of the program the applicant must demonstrate a permanent fixed income of at least US$1,000 per month. Generally, those who seek the Rentista category do not have a pension source and instead have investment income.

To apply for this category it is necessary to provide proof of the investment and that it will generate the US$1,000 per month required under this program. As such the applicant must provide a letter from the bank or financial institution where the investment funds are deposited certifying the existence of that income. It is not required that the funds be held in Costa Rica. The letter can be issued by international banks as well as Costa Rican banks.

In both cases, Pensionado and Rentista the beneficiaries must comply with the following:

  1. Prove on an annual basis that the required funds were deposited in Costa Rica and exchanged into local currency.
  2. According to Article 123 (g) of the new law they must reside in the country at least six months out of the year. This is a change from the old law which only required a minimum of four months.

The new Immigration Law, Law No. 8487 has effectively repealed the Pensionado Rentista Law, Law 4812 effective August 12, 2006. This means that all future applications must comply with the new law. Although the new law eliminates the Pensionado Rentista Law it does not eliminate the category. On the contrary, the new law creates the immigration residency sub-category of Pensionado or Rentista.

Under the new law there are only two main immigration categories, Permanent Residency and Temporary Residency. The Pensionado and Rentista becomes a sub-category to obtain Temporary Residency. Permanent Residency is only reserved for immediate relatives of citizens or those that have had a Temporary Residency category for at least three years.

  • Under the new law to be eligible for the Pensionado Category under Article 77 of Law 8487 the applicant must demonstrate as in the old law a pension of at least $600 per month.
  • Under the Rentista residency Category the income requirement remains the same at $1,000 per month. The only modification to the old law is that the current law imposes an additional income requirement if the applicant intends to have their spouse or children apply as dependents to their category.

According to Article 79 the Rentista applicant must prove an income of $2,000 per month if they apply jointly with their spouse. If they include children in the application then it is $500 additional in income for each dependent child.

According to the law a dependent child is defined as any minor child of the applicant, any person under the age of 25 years who is a student or any person that is handicapped. The law only refers to the rentista category when it addresses the increase in income for dependents. There is no mention that the same applies for dependents, generally a spouse under the pensionado category.

The new law also modifies the application procedure. Under the old law the applicant could file their Pensionado or Rentista application directly with the Department of Immigration in Costa Rica. Article 78 of the new law eliminates that possibility and will require that all applications be filed with the Costa Rican consulate in their country of origin.

The Costa Rican consulate will in turn courier the file to the Department of Immigration in Costa Rica. The applicant will have to name somebody in Costa Rican with a Power of Attorney to review their application file.

As in the old law, the new law requires that the application be accompanied by the following supporting documentation:

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  1. Birth Certificate: You must provide a certified copy of your birth certificate and that of your dependents. The certified copy must be sent to the Costa Rican consulate for your jurisdiction for authentication. The consulate charges US$40 for each document to be authenticated. Be advised that the Department of Immigration will not accept any supporting documentation which has not been authenticated by a Costa Rican Consul.
  2. Marriage Certificate: If you have a spouse that will be applying as well then you will also have to provide a certified copy of a marriage certificate. The certificate must also be authenticated by a Costa Rican Consulate.
  3. Proof of Income: If your source of income is a government pension then obtain a letter from your government certifying the income. (US citizens on Social Security can obtain this letter from the United States Embassy -Consular Section in Costa Rica) If the income is from a Bank or Financial Institution then it must issue the letter. All documents should be authenticated by the Costa Rican Consulate.
  4. Police Certificate of Good Conduct: This certification is obtained from the police department where you last resided. This certification also needs to be authenticated by a Costa Rican Consulate. Note that this certificate is only valid for 6 months from the date they are issued. If this document expires while you are pulling together the rest of the documentation then you will have to obtain another one.
  5. Interpol Background Check: This step is done in Costa Rica at the Ministry of Public Security. The applicant first fills out an application form which is addressed to the Department of Public Security and signed by the Department of Immigration. In it is a request for the background check which requires finger printing in Costa Rica. The background check takes approximately one month.
  6. Photographs: The application requires photographs during the various stages of processing and we recommend that you take at least 10 photographs facing the front and 5 facing the side). You will require photographs for the background search, the Department of Immigration application so you might as well get them all at once and keep them in the file as needed.
  7. Translation of Documents: Once you have compiled all your documentation, all documents which are in English must be translated into Spanish. This procedure can generally be handled by the Attorney that you have retained to process your application.

Within the application process you will be required to provide the Department of Immigration with the following information:

1. Full Name, 2. Nationality, 3. Occupation, 4. Name of your Father, 5. Name of your Mother, 6. Name of your Spouse, 7. Race, 8. Color of your Eyes, 9. Color of your hair, 10. Your height (in meters), 11. Your weight (in kilos), 12. Marital Status, 13. Place of Birth, 14. Date of Birth, 15. Original Entry Date into Costa Rica, 16. Point of Entry into Costa Rica, 17. Physical Address in Costa Rica, 18. Telephone number in Costa Rica.

If your application is approved then the Department of Immigration will issue a formal resolution indicating the date on which the application was approved. You or your legal representative must appear at the Department of Immigration to officially retrieve the resolution.

Once you have the resolution then you can request an appointment with the Department of Immigration to have them issue you a picture identification residency card. To withdraw your residency card you must personally appear and sign for the card before the Immigration Officer at the Department of Immigration.

By incorporating the Pensionado and Rentista program into the new immigration law the Costa Rican government has sent a signal to foreign retirees considering Costa Rica as their future home that the door is open.

Copyright by Roger A. Petersen.

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Written by Attorney at Law – Roger A. Petersen. Roger has been an attorney since 1992 and is a member of both the Costa Rican and Florida Bar. He practices law in San José, Costa Rica and is the author of the best-selling book ‘The Legal Guide To Costa Rica.’

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